AN ODDBALL story in Baltimore caught our attention the other day as a microcosmic illustration of the damage President Trump’s intensifying deportation crackdown may inflict. It involves an alleged rape victim, the lawyer for the alleged rapist, an alleged $3,000 bribe and — the tale’s real protagonist — a rising climate of fear that has gripped communities of undocumented immigrants.
The story involves a Baltimore lawyer, Christos Vasiliades, who represented a man accused of rape. In the event, Mr. Vasiliades himself was arrested for trying to get his client’s accuser to back off by warning her that she risked arrest as an undocumented immigrant if she showed up in court to testify. (He is also alleged to have offered the victim a carrot — $3,000 in cash — to go along with the threatened stick.)
The alleged victim refused to be victimized twice. She reported the conversation to law enforcement, which subsequently managed to record Mr. Vasiliades making his offer, according to a criminal indictment charging him with witness intimidation and obstruction of justice.
Mr. Vasiliades’s gambit might have been far-fetched if not for the national context — specifically, the accelerating pace of arrests of unauthorized immigrants, including tens of thousands of immigrants with no criminal history, by federal deportation agents, and flurries of reports involving arrests of immigrants at courthouses around the country.
Arrests, including at courthouses, and deportations took place under the Obama administration, but the pace accelerated sharply in the first 100 days of Mr. Trump’s term, when more than 41,000 arrests were made, a nearly 38 percent increase from the same period in the previous year. Three-quarters of those arrested had criminal records, but the most dramatic increase occurred among immigrants with no criminal convictions.
Federal officials acknowledge making arrests in courthouses, although they insist it’s a last resort. But the rising number of such cases prompted a rebuke from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as well as a plea from the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, who asked federal officials to desist.
As they both noted, arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses imperils entire communities, making victims less likely to report crimes and witnesses less likely to testify. It may jeopardize individuals in civil matters, too, including family and custody disputes. If voluntary contact with law enforcement puts undocumented immigrants at risk of exposing their legal status, many or most will choose to avoid such interaction. The result is creeping lawlessness.
“People are at their most vulnerable when they seek out the assistance of local authorities,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, chair of the Civil Rights Commission, “and we are all less safe if individuals who need help do not feel safe to come forward.”
That threat was what Mr. Vasiliades allegedly hoped to leverage. “You know how things are with Trump’s laws now,” a man serving as his interpreter was recorded as telling the alleged victim in Baltimore, according to the indictment. “Someone goes to court, and — boom — they get taken away.”
In the event, she was not deterred. How many would have her courage?